Three seats on the Los Altos City Council are up for grabs this November. The Talon interviewed all seven candidates about their backgrounds, priorities, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and youth in leadership.
Who is Scott Spielman, and what does he want to do?
Spielman previously worked on the East Coast as a civil engineer, then came to Stanford to work in the tech industry. He then went on to found a small, non-denominational church in Mountain View.
“All people are welcome — we’ve had poor, we’ve had rich and we’ve had very wealthy,” Spielman said when talking about who comes to his church. “We accept all races and orientations.”
Spielman is a former board member and past president of the Kiwanis Service Club, a community service club in Los Altos.
“Kiwanis is a global organization of volunteers dedicated to changing the world, one child and one community at a time,” according to the Los Altos Kiwanis Club website.
After starting a teacher awards program, Spielman was recognized as a Friend of the Mountain View–Los Altos District by the District Board. Most recently, he has become involved with the Parks and Recreation Commission as the vice chair.
Spielman said that in the past, he’s been frustrated that the City has been unable to organize its priorities and act on them effectively.
“The issue of dog parks has been an issue that the City has bounced around for over 10 years, and we haven’t been able to even try anything in that time,” Spielman said. “As another example, the City paid roughly $330,000 for a downtown vision plan and little has been accomplished. If we set something as a priority, we should focus on achieving it.”
Spielman plans to proactively seek out the opinions of residents by asking questions and releasing surveys.
“I care to involve all of the constituents,” Spielman said. “We have to do what we can to revitalize businesses after the coronavirus crisis.”
He also said that he’ll advocate for more traffic monitoring via police patrol, as well as more police in schools to protect against school shootings.
“We need enough patrol officers to make sure we can patrol our streets for traffic violations and speeding,” Spielman said. “I believe that we also need to have officers that just patrol our communities, looking out to protect our neighborhoods. I believe safety in schools is a very important issue. You need a police presence to respond or be there to protect kids. There is a safety side, and there is a discrimination side.”
“When I first saw the video of George Floyd, I cried,” Spielman said. “I agree that there is no place for racism in America. I believe that particularly in our community, there are others that experience this discrimination, for example the Hispanic community.”
Spielman said that he would like to create a committee to address the issue of racism and include “all constituent perspectives, including students, parents, school administrators and school resource officers.”
Youth in leadership
“I’d like to see our Youth Commission enhanced or reinforced,” Spielman said. “One idea I’ve heard from youth is an affordable restaurant in Downtown. We should engage our youth in government with internships and training programs, and youth will come up with a lot of ideas I hadn’t thought of before.”
Who is Terri Couture, and what does she want to do?
A long time resident of Los Altos, Couture wants to increase communication between the Council and city manager, as well as communication between residents and the Council.
Couture said she would like to create a safe space for students to be able to speak up about bullying in their schools, having experienced bullying herself in high school.
“I feel like that is one of the worst problems because kids don’t want to complain about bullies because they might get hurt by bullies,” she said.
Couture thinks that a safe space to allow students to report bullying may solve this problem. Other than wanting a resource for bullying, Couture said she likes Los Altos the way it is, and did not identify any other issues in the city.
“I think Los Altos is pretty good,” Couture said. “The communication between the city manager and the Council could be better. The communication between the residents and the Council needs to be better.”
Couture said that she supports the ideals behind BLM, but disagrees with the tactics of protestors.
“Unfortunately, the real Black Lives movement has been usurped by a bunch of violent thugs,” Couture said. “I do not believe in violence. They are only hurting their own people. I have probably faced a lot of sexual harassment in my life, but I just don’t pay attention to it. I understand that there are races that are put down, but I don’t think it happens in Los Altos — I could be wrong. I know it does happen in East Palo Alto.”
Couture believes the Los Altos Police Department needs to be more transparent about the reasons behind traffic stops to give residents a better understanding of the department’s methods.
Youth in leadership
Couture hopes that the youth of Los Altos will help lead by working with independent services or volunteer groups. She remembered volunteering at local nursing homes and other organizations as a teen, and hopes that today’s youth can do the same.
Who is Sally Meadows, and what does she want to do?
Meadows, a retired pharmaceutical executive of 25 years, is running on a platform of making City Council more efficient. As a long-time Los Altos resident, she has spent the past decade working with various community groups within Los Altos such as the Community Advisory Council for El Camino Hospital and the board of directors of Mentor Tutor Connections.
One of Meadows’s top priorities will be making the Council more efficient.
“We have a bit of a logjam on the council.” Meadows said. “Not too much seems to get decided.”
During her term Meadows plans to take the advice of commissions more seriously than she claims past councils have, with the goal of speeding up legislative decisions.
Meadows has served on multiple city commissions over the past decade. Currently, she’s a member of the Los Altos Planning Commission, which advises the City Council on matters relating to transportation and planning. Between 2012 and 2016, she sat on the Los Altos Design Review Commission, chairing it during her first year. The Design Review Commission reviews construction plans for single family residential units.
“The Council has put together these expert commissions, but they don’t really take into account all the work done by commissions,” Meadows said. “They don’t have to agree with what the commissions recommend, but it appears that they don’t spend much time thinking about what the commissions have done.”
Meadows is also prioritizing affordable housing in Los Altos and plans to increase affordable housing by pushing for taller buildings on busy roads whenever possible. However, she recognizes that Los Altos is inherently expensive.
“Los Altos will never be an area with a lot of affordable housing,” Meadows said. “We need to maximize what we can do. Our first responders and city staff cannot afford to live here. We need to encourage building as much affordable housing as we can.”
Meadows said that she is a strong supporter of BLM and that she would like to see the LAPD release traffic stop data to the public more often, which outlines the demographics of individuals stopped for any reason.
“Traffic stop data is really where you see the evidence of profiling,” Meadows said.
Youth in leadership
Meadows believes that young people should voice their opinions and will encourage them to attend City Council meetings. Additionally, she suggested that many young people can speak to their parents and other adults to influence their decisions.
“Youth voices are coming through loud and clear,” Meadows said. “A lot of young people are coming to Council meetings. The voices of youth point toward the future, where we have to go.”
LYNETTE LEE ENG
Who is Lynette Lee Eng, and what does she want to do?
A former member of the Parks and Recreation Commission, Lee Eng has sat on the City Council since 2016. In her last term, she created the summer concert series and founded the Grant Senior Center.
She also led the restriction of 5G towers in Los Altos.
“There had been reports about how these towers have affected health, so I think that addressing public concerns when it comes to health issues is very important,” Lee Eng said.
According to Lee Eng, a group of her constituents brought forth studies linking 5G to negative health effects, specifically cancer.
“[Cancer in relation to 5G networking] is concerning for me, and I take it seriously,” Lee Eng said. “Other people have raised a concern about security — concerns about how their data may be affected. I’m not a technology expert, so I think the ordinance that we’ve implemented addresses both concerns.”
According to the American Cancer Association, there is no strong evidence linking RF waves from cell phone towers to any noticeable health effects.
Lee Eng plans to prioritize local control of city zoning laws, as the state has taken a more active role recently. She also plans to help promote fiscal responsibility by meeting with the Finance Commission more often, which she says other members have been opposed to.
One of Lee Eng’s proudest achievements from the past term is implementing a coronavirus testing site in Los Altos, and she said that she believes that the Council has done a good job with educating its constituents about the coronavirus.
“Of course Black lives matter — Asian lives matter,” Lee Eng said when asked what she thought of the BLM. “Our city staff would benefit from additional unbiased diversity training.”
Youth in leadership
Lee Eng sees the Youth Commission as a good resource for youth to make their voices heard.
“The Teen Commission has been very involved in providing input, and teens are always welcome at all our meetings,” Lee Eng said. “We do respect the teen input and try to engage with them whenever possible.”
Who is Alex Rubashevsky, and what does he want to do?
A real estate agent, contractor and Planning Commission member, Rubashevsky said he is “very comfortable” with issues pertaining to land use. He also has experience in constructing homes, which he believes will help him identify with his constituents in issues related to building requirements.
“If I were to get elected, I would simplify the planning and approval process by removing some of the subjectivity and giving people clear guidelines,” he said. “I basically want to streamline the process of accessory dwelling units, remodels or anything else people in the city would like to do.”
Another one of his priorities is to help local businesses thrive during the pandemic. He said he would like to see more outdoor dining and retail space, and a more pedestrian-friendly environment in the downtown area.
To address affordable housing, Rubashevsky proposed the creation of urban villages, as seen in the San Antonio Center — mixing together retail, office space, living and entertainment to create economic success along with more affordable housing.
Rubashevsky believes that having urban villages will help to increase property value in Los Altos, which he said would lead to more revenue without raising additional taxes; Rubashevsky hopes to use the money raised from higher property taxes for affordable housing and other initiatives.
“We need to do everything that we can to help eliminate racism,” Rubashevsky said. “I believe that peaceful protests are a necessary movement for change, and we have to vote to put that change in place.”
He said that he would also like to change the language in Los Altos’ covenant, conditions and restrictions documents, which outline standards for property use. He believes that there is racist and outdated language in these documents that should be removed.
Youth in leadership
Rubashevsky would like to increase resources and activities for youth in Los Altos, as well as have an open dialogue with them.
“Having transparency and meetings with youth is something that I’d like to do,” Rubashevsky said. “I’d want to visit schools when they open back up and explain what it is that we can do with the increased revenue.”
Who is Kuljeet Kalkat, and what does he want to do?
Kalkat, a former tech executive and small business owner in Los Altos, is running on a platform of fiscal responsibility. Kalkat would be the first Indian American to be a City Council member in the history of Los Altos.
As the chair of the Financial Commission, Kalkat said that he has seen the monetary issues, such as overspending, of Los Altos firsthand and plans to fix them if elected. As the former owner of Cranberry Scoop, a boutique gift shop in Los Altos, Kalkat said that he recognizes the struggles that businesses face and has the relationships needed to reach them and address their concerns.
Kalkat predicts lower income due to less local economic activity, as the coronavirus has shuttered many small businesses and venues.
One of Kalkat’s top priorities is creating fiscal responsibility by making sure that the City spends its money wisely and solves cash flow issues. He believes that the Council should be taking the recommendations of the Financial Commission more seriously.
“Our financial situation will be a little bit tenuous over the next few years,” Kalkat said. “Our income will be quite low, and we also embarked on some major expenditures, such as the new community center.”
Additionally, Kalkat said that he is “very much in favor” of affordable housing.
“We should make sure that people like teachers, policemen, firemen and service workers who make Los Altos what it is can afford to live here,” Kalkat said. “The answer may lie in a regional specific housing answer. Maybe a combination of Sunnyvale, Mountain View and Los Altos can work together to solve these issues.”
Kalkat said that he feels as though people of color have a tough time claiming Los Altos as their own.
“I have family for several generations in Africa,” Kalkat said. “I’ve had an understanding and an appreciation for how tough it is for people of color in some environments. Our society just has implicit biases. Black lives matter, and it’s not just out on the street with the police; racism shows up in everyday life, and people of color — particularly Black people — suffer.”
Kalkat said he hopes that having an Asian American representation will be a message of hope to the Asian Americans of Los Altos.
“I’m hoping that we change perceptions and views just by representation,” he said.
Youth in leadership
“There is a youth commission, but there needs to be a push by the Youth Commission to see how they can get involved with the Council,” Kalkat said. “I’d also like to see more 18-year-olds vote.”
JONATHAN D. WEINBERG
Who is Jonathan Weinberg, and what does he want to do?
A practicing real estate attorney, Weinberg said that he feels comfortable creating and discussing laws. He was also the vice chair for Neysa Fligor’s 2018 City Council campaign, and former chair of the Parks and Recreation Commission; he also sits on the new Hillview Community Center Design Development Working Group.
“I’m very unhappy with the direction that the Council has gone in the past couple of years,” Weinberg said. “The current council has gotten us involved in far too much litigation that we have no chance of winning.”
Weinberg cited the Sorenson Brothers case as an example of this, when a group sued the City for denying a housing permit, which he believes unnecessarily cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“My top priority is to get the litigation under control,” he said. “I want to stop the bleeding. We ought to budget for litigation.”
Weinberg also plans to fight for more transparency in Council meetings.
“First and foremost, the Council needs to explain what the choices are — who is behind the various choices and what the consequences of those choices are,” Weinberg said, speaking about how the Council makes decisions.
Weinberg said that he is a supporter of BLM and believes that there should be room in the conversation for both social justice as well as a department that protects property rights — issues raised by opposing sides at the recent town hall about police.
“Anecdotal evidence is an important part of the conversation, but it can’t be the end of the conversation,” Weinberg said, speaking about the stories that residents brought up during the recent town hall. “Rather than just looking at the demographics of arrest data, the more important question to me is how the police would treat a white person as opposed to a person of color when they are stopped or arrested under essentially the same circumstances.”
Youth in leadership
“I learned about four years ago how important it is for the voice of the young people in our community to have a seat at the table,” Weinberg said, referring to his work with high schoolers on the Parks and Recreation Commission.
He would like to see more diversity in all areas of local government, which he said will only happen when individuals put themselves forward to be active in the local government.
He also hopes to overhaul the City’s Youth Commission, which Weinberg wants to help by fixing a recent attendance problem.
[Read about the Mountain View City Council candidates and the Mountain View–Los Altos School District Board candidates for this year’s elections.]
Friday, September 4: Jonathan Weinberg was previously listed as an “assistant” for Neysa Fligor’s campaign and the current chair of the Parks and Recreation Commission — he was the vice chair of Fligor’s campaign and is the former chair of the Parks and Recreation Commission. A new quote was also added to clarify his position on BLM. Additionally, Lynette Lee Eng has sat on the Council since 2016, not 2018 as originally stated.
Saturday, September 5: Scott Spielman is the former president of the Kiwanis Club, not the current president as originally stated.